The co-founder of Breddos Tacos on growing up in Zambia, living the al pastor life in London, and surviving the taco wars.
Listen, even in affable, special-relationship London you don’t invite just anyone into your gaff. But this guy, Nud Dudhia, is not just anyone. He is a bearded unicorn of a man, a one-of-kind Londoner raised in Zambia, self-taught in Mexican cuisine, and now an undisputed leader of the London taco scene, which like quite a few things in this place, is way better than you think. It’s Nud Dudhia of Breddos Tacos, and it was my distinct pleasure to steal an hour with him at the house of my friend, the journalist Bobby Ghosh, in which we raided the bar, raised a glass, and talked at length about that al pastor life in London.
This is the last of four episodes from London that I recorded for the show in 2019. The weather was fine, and I really didn’t want to leave, especially not when this excellent country was left in the clutches of the cabal of self-dealing dunces and millionaire Brexiteers. But London has weathered worse, and came out stronger, with better food, each time. We’ll see you soon.
Here is an edited and condensed transcript from my conversation with Nud. You can listen to the full episode on iTunes on the embedded player here.
Nathan Thornburgh: What is this stuff?
Nud Dudhia: So this is Illegal. Mezcal joven is a young mezcal. This brand also do an aged one, so this is one that’s been untreated, essentially. So it’s kind of entry level, nice and clean, should probably taste like green apples and be all right for a Sunday morning.
Thornburgh: Yeah, so, if you were going to say, what is a good Sunday morning mezcal?
Dudhia: Well, it’s quite citric, so I guess it’s like having an apple juice or an orange juice in the morning.
Thornburgh: Perfect, just a little pick-me-up before school.
Thornburgh: All right so we are drinking mezcal because you are into Mexican food. Is that a good way to put it?
Thornburgh: Seems like a vast understatement. Tell me about your restaurants.
Dudhia: I run three businesses with my partner, Chris. The first and I guess the most important to us, which helped us on this journey, is a business called Breddos Tacos. We started in a car park in Hackney. It was this car park I’d walk past every day. One day I noticed there was a burger trader in there called Lucky Chip, who became a very good friend, and we were like, maybe we should do something that isn’t involving drinking every Friday and Saturday night in the Cat & Mutton, which is this pub down the road. Chris was in finance. I worked in creative in advertising, so we always sat in the pub and waxed lyrical about “This is shit. I just want to do something.” I always wanted to do something in food. Food was always my thing, I grew up in Africa and grew up fishing and hunting and my grandma catered weddings for like a thousand people and I’d sit there with these big pots and cauldrons and stuff.
Thornburgh: And that was not preparing you for a life of creative advertising?
Dudhia: No, not really. I lived in Mexico for a while in 2000. I went traveling in a place called Puerto Escondido with these pipe dreams of being a pro surfer and living that kind of life. Obviously I just ate lots of tacos and drank lots of mezcal and tequila instead.
Thornburgh: It’s a hell of a break on the punta out there.
Dudhia: Yeah. We loved it. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world. Anyway, so fast forward a few years, getting back into London life, kind of hating what we were doing. I just came up with the idea. I was “Why don’t we do a taco shack? There’s no good tacos in London.” So we bought loads of slow cookers because we couldn’t afford an oven and we put them on, built this shack, and started selling tacos on Saturdays. We called it Breddos because it’s a derivative of brethren, brothers.
Thornburgh: So this is like Clockwork Orange-style? You had your own weird slang?
Dudhia: Yeah, it’s from university actually.
Dudhia: Yeah, at uni we were all stoners and we’d be saying “Yay, Breddo,” which came from brethren.
Thornburgh: This is your version of droogs, the Manchester droog scene. All right.
Dudhia: And then, initially, we didn’t know what to call it, and in the end it was like “Why not just called it Breddos?” No one knows what it means. It’s us, whatever.
The Venn diagram between the weed scene and the taco scene is pretty strong.
Dudhia: That’s how I met Chris anyway, through the weed scene, whatever you call it. He always had the good shit.
Thornburgh: I feel like the Venn diagram between the weed scene and the taco scene is pretty strong.
Dudhia: Yeah, the crossover is pretty big. One feeds the other, right. So we decided to open this taco shack. Chris is really handy with wood and nails, unlike me who just all I think about is food. So he knocked up this shack, and then we had a board that we found this guy called Alex, Mr. Gringo, funny enough his name was. He was doodling on the staircase of the next warehouse along, and I loved his style. I was just like “Dude, can you do me a logo?” He came back 10 minutes later with Breddos the way it’s written exactly now. I’ve got the first B he ever wrote. He gave it to me as a gift. That became our branding. He still does all of the stuff in all of our restaurants.
Thornburgh: That is a trip. How many years ago are we talking now?
Dudhia: 2011, so you’re looking at like 10 years or whatever now. Anyways, we got really busy straightaway. People started loving our food. We changed the menu every week, basically. We only opened on Saturdays. I got lost in this black hole of Mexican food and regional Mexican food. I just started going deeper and deeper and deeper into research and trying to just basically celebrate all of the things I was learning. Breddos taco shack in Netil Market in Hackney became this forum for me to start discussing what I thought great Mexican food was. It became really good and really busy. I mean, within about a year and a half, I think, we were talking about, kind of saying, “Fuck it, we want to do this. Everything else is shit. I’d been at McCann Erickson, an advertising agency.
Thornburgh: I mean that sounds like an upgrade of your earlier waxing lyrical, right. Like, “Everything is shit, but now we actually have a path out.”
Dudhia: Yeah, exactly. Well, it was just a crazy-steep learning curve. You’d never imagine. The first day we opened we didn’t even have tortillas. We were like, “Fuck, where are the tortillas?”
Thornburgh: Well, that’s an interesting problem.
Dudhia: Which is like the first thing you’d think someone would think about opening a taco shack. Anyway. I’ll tell you what, at the shack anyway, a typical Friday, Saturday. Because we used to do these short rib tacos that we’d cook slowly. We had a bank of slow cookers. They cost 35 quid, and we had about 10 of them underneath the lining of the shack all plugged in with extension lead upon extension lead.
Someone nicked our short ribs overnight. Someone tried to sabotage us in the Taco Wars.
Thornburgh: Sounds totally up to code.
Dudhia: So we’d finish work. Chris would finish early because he was in finance. We were still buying our meat at normal customer prices. No wholesale vibes at this point because we didn’t even know how that happened. He’d cycle over to The Ginger Pig, pick out these incredible short ribs. I’d finish work, we’d meet at the pub. We’d sink four or five Guinness, and then we’d jump over the wall to get to our shack. Sear off the ribs, make the sauce with the ribs, make the adobo, get those ribs into the cookers, go back to the pub, have a few more, and then essentially on the way home just jump over the fence one more time and make sure that the lids of the slow cookers weren’t overcooking with all the released juices of the short ribs.
And then go home, pass out, wake up. First one to wake up would peg it down there and pull out all these ribs that are just falling apart and then we’d start our day. We basically did that for like a year and a half. That was the routine every single week, apart from once when Chris didn’t turn up at all. That was the night he met his girlfriend, which he’s still going out with now, so I’ve kind of just about forgiven him. I was fucked that day.
Thornburgh: For having chosen love over ribs.
Dudhia: Yeah, he did.
Thornburgh: Oh, man. That’s a tough … Well, yeah, I mean, sometimes you just got to prioritize on a given night. So, you would leave this stuff cooking overnight. Nobody to watch it. No guarantee that the whole thing wouldn’t burn down?
Dudhia: Yeah, so one night we were doing … There’s a thing called Taco Wars in London. It’s a competition for the best taco. So the first Taco Wars, we did this exact same thing. Ribs in, and then I did this crazy taco. I was like “Fuck it, we’re going psycho.” So we decided to get popping candy, you know that Tajín spice you get in Mexico? It’s in a long bottle.
Thornburgh: That’s beautiful stuff.
Dudhia: So I put that into popping candy.
Thornburgh: So like pop rocks?
Dudhia: Yeah. Pop rocks with Tajín, so they went in your mouth they just went crazy with the short rib and the fat. Anyway, it was a long story, but someone nicked our short ribs overnight. It was the first time we got broken into, so someone tried to sabotage us.
Thornburgh: Sabotage you for the Taco Wars. Well, it is for the war. It’s in the name. You can’t come expecting a non-military engagement. Yeah, that is crazy. Pop rocks with Tajín. Because one thing I have gotten to know about Mexicans over the decades is they like to just fuck up their face with some of the things they eat. I mean, Takis.
Dudhia: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Thornburgh: That is a thing that kids pop in the mouth after school, which is just an explosion of chili powder and every kind of artificial sodium known to man.
Thornburgh: I think you would probably be singing through them. All right, so the great short rib heist notwithstanding, the business survives.
Dudhia: We won. The worst thing is they give you a thousand pounds when you win in cash on the day.
Thornburgh: No shit.
Dudhia: After you’ve been drinking tequila since 9 a.m. What are you going to do?
Thornburgh: So what did you do?
Dudhia: Yeah, I can’t remember. I remember my girlfriend’s parents were visiting at the time. I don’t think I was in a very good state the next day.
Thornburgh: Like “Whatever, man. I just won a war. I’m coming home from battle.”
Dudhia: I think I feel asleep with the trophy in my arms.
Thornburgh: All right, so even if the thousand pounds-
Dudhia: Disappeared somewhere.
Thornburgh: So tell me a bit about your background. You are from the UK, but you grew up in Africa?
Dudhia: No, I’m from Zambia, actually. I was born in Zambia. I lived there for the first 10 years of my life with my parents and my whole family. Classic kind of Indian background family. My dad’s got 25 brothers and 13 sisters, or whatever.
Thornburgh: All in Zambia?
Dudhia: Yeah, and you don’t know if you’re related to him but he’s all been around kind of thing. It was a community life. We were lucky that my uncle owned a couple of safari camps and a hunting lodge. Everything was focused around being outdoors: fishing, hunting. Every holiday we’d go fishing and hunting. I was exposed to gutting fish, cooking fish outside over fire, and skinning animals and all that kind of stuff from a very, very young age. I mean, I’ve got a scar on the top of my head from the very first time I tried shooting a rifle and it just relayed back and smacked me in the head and knocked me out. I think I was about eight when that happened.
Thornburgh: Jesus, that’s like A Christmas Story, but in Zambia.
Dudhia: But, yeah. I used to go back. We moved to the UK when I was about 10, and then I’d just go back for every holiday. I was totally addicted to that lifestyle. I just wanted to be there. Cooking was always an integral part of family life, like your Saturday braai where everyone is competing for the best marinade for the steak. “Look at this piece of meat. How cool is that?” People would always if they went fishing they’d bring you back fish. Or who can make the best biltong? It was quite competitive amongst my family. One of my dad’s sisters was really good at making, weirdly, African tacos, believe it or not. She used to make injera. You know the Ethiopian flatbread. She’d make that and then she’d put her stuff on top of it. Maybe that’s where the genesis of Breddos came from.
Thornburgh: Your bloodline has been fucking with the format for quite a while.
Thornburgh: That’s fascinating.
Dudhia: But I grew up around a big culture of food. This is a typical story, but my grandmother’s obviously the matriarch of it all. Africa is such an interesting place.
Thornburgh: I don’t know much about what was going down in Zambia. Where there the same kind of pogroms that you saw elsewhere, like instability being of Indian descent there or the move here was more opportunities?
Dudhia: I think it was mainly because my parents wanted to try to salvage their marriage.
Thornburgh: Come to London for love.
Dudhia: Didn’t work, but anyway.
Thornburgh: Hey, it was worth a try.
Dudhia: I ended up there, which is great.
Thornburgh: And now you’re like a city kid. Do you go out and just start firing rifles in the countryside?
Dudhia: Sadly, no. No, I’ve lost of all of that. I haven’t been back to Zambia for like eight years now. I tend to focus any kind of travel I have now, unfortunately, around Mexico or fortunately around eating. Any kind of relationship I guess I had to Zambia has been weathered away by these many years of going to Mexico.
Thornburgh: Well, until you get back into that Zambian taco game.
Dudhia: Well, I’ve got to get my son out there at some point. Maybe that’s when it’ll kickstart back into action again.
They had this fermentation bunker, and I just lost my mind in there, literally.
Thornburgh: I want to hear what you’re going to be up to next. It’s been, not “oddly,” but unusually fortuitous among all of those who start with trucks in the world, and here you are with a small group of restaurants. What’s on the horizon for you?
Dudhia: At the moment, I feel like I’m getting to a point where I’d like to get back in the kitchen a reassess everything that we’re doing. My art teacher once told me “Don’t be afraid of killing your babies,” in terms of the artwork that we were producing. Just never think you’re done. I’m thinking about getting back in the kitchen and redoing that. I’ve been doing a project in our local, Maiz. Don’t even get me started on what it is. I guess it’s like a Norwegian-focused produce Mexican restaurant. So it’s a pop-up using in the winter, just ferments and whatever else, and in the summer just using whatever he can forage and find and whatever’s growing. It’s very much grounded in the Norwegian mentality.
Thornburgh: Jesus, because it was too easy to reproduce Mexican-style ingredients in London.
Dudhia: I moved to Oslo. I live in between Oslo and London. It became a thing that I just really loved. I worked in a bar called Brutus there, a restaurant/bar. They had this fermentation bunker, and I just lost my mind in there, literally. I was just like, “Fuck! Use that. What about this? What about that?”
Thornburgh: That does sound like a good place to go crazy, a fermentation bunker.
Dudhia: Yeah, it was under the restaurant. Half of it was illegal, but it was great. But I’d like to focus on that for a bit.
This was just an excerpt of the whole conversation. For more from London taco guru Nud Dudhia and host Nathan Thornburgh, listen to the entire episode on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.